The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan has used his annual Easter message to pray for Christian churches in the Middle East and for greater compassion in Australia for those displaced by war and conflict.
In a message recorded with Syrian refugees at Bankstown in Sydney’s south-west, Mr McMillan urged Australians of all faiths and none to rise above political debate and reach out to those in desperate need of support.
“The Easter story is an outrageous love story of a Creator God who wants to reconcile the brokenness of Creation and make peace,” Mr McMillan said.
“Easter is a chance for new beginnings. It’s our chance personally and in many ways, it’s our chance as a nation to rise above the narrowness of our media and politics and defeat hatred and injustice with love and compassion.”
Mr McMillan delivered the message with Rev. Gaby Kobrossi of Bankstown District Uniting Church, who has been ministering to many refugees who have settled in the Bankstown area.
In the message Rev. Kobrossi describes English as a second language classes, one of several services his Church provides to new migrants.
“As a Christian, as a Church this is part of our ministry, part of our role,” Rev Kobrossi said.
“During this Easter, during this Lent season, it will be really wonderful to say to these people, welcome.”
The Australian government announced in September 2015 that 12,000 additional humanitarian places would be made available in response to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Last month the Government confirmed that all additional 12,000 visas had now been granted.
More than 6,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq have settled near Bankstown over the last 12 months, so many newcomers are dealing with the pressures of resettlement.
In his Easter message Mr McMillan also describes a recent church partner visit he made to Lebanon, where that country is struggling to cope with almost two million displaced people from the ongoing conflict across its borders.
“We met a compassionate community working together with leaders of other faiths and their government to meet the needs of so many,” Mr McMillan said.
“The full extent of God’s love was clearly at work and being shared without favour.
“I pray for all peoples wherever they may be who have been displaced by conflict.
“I pray for the Christian Churches of the Middle East.
“And I pray that we in Australia, with them all, would know anew the full extent of God’s love this Easter.”
More than half the refugees living in Lebanon are children, with almost half of them aged 6-14 out of school.
In response to the crisis, the Uniting Church’s relief and development agency UnitingWorld has launched an appeal to help Syrian children get back in school.
UnitingWorld is working with the Middle East Council of Churches and local churches in Lebanon, to support church-run schools provide education for more refugee children.
Rev. Joseph Kassab of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon says the schools cater for students of all backgrounds and religions.
“Students learn to live together in respectful, tolerant and harmonious relationships,” Rev Kassab said.
“They learn to live in communities, diverse but united. That’s what Syria needs, and what the world needs – people who seek to live together respectfully, tolerant of difference.”
For more information or to make a donation please go to http://unitingworld.org.au/syriakids
To view and download the message: https://vimeo.com/212840323 using the password Easter2017